The Now You See Me movies are a bit like another Summit Entertainment property–the Divergent series–in that they receive mediocre to poor reviews, yet keep getting sequels. The Divergent series is often (fairly or unfairly) compared to the Hunger Games films, while the Now You See Me movies are compared to the Ocean’s trilogy. There are similarities, but NYSM reminded me of the television program Leverage, but with more illusions and fewer cons.
Now You See Me 2 picks up about a year after the first installment. Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is ready to re-enter the spotlight, but Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is waiting for the right moment. The magicians are a Horseman down because Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) has bailed. While I did miss Fisher’s presence, Lizzy Caplan was an inspired choice to play new recruit Lula May. Lula has a different personality to Henley, and Caplan’s manic energy was a nice contrast to the rest of the cast.
Also missing was Melanie Laurent, who played Interpol agent Alma Dray in the first film. While it would have been nice to see her again, there was no reason for her to show up.
When the time for the comeback arrives, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The next thing you know, the Four Horsemen find themselves in Macau, a.k.a. “Asian Vegas.” Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) brought them there to coerce (force) them into stealing a computer circuit thingy called “The Stick” a.k.a. “The MacGuffin.”
Ever since the first Mission: Impossible movie, many filmmakers have put their spin on the Pentagon break in–to varying degrees of success. Now You See Me 2 does it by having fun, yet keeping the tension high. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) removes the Stick from the server, and affixes it to a playing card, which gets tossed, passed, and thrown from one Horseman to another in an elaborate game of keep away/hide the MacGuffin. The scene went on a bit long, but it was never not fun.
I don’t know if the steal the Stick scene was conceived with Henley in mind, (Fisher had to drop out due to pregnancy) or if it was written as a way for Lula to prove her value to the other Horsemen. In the first film, we find out that Henley used to be Danny’s assistant, and the chance to see her take charge would have been fun. Either way, Danny’s reaction when he found out what was happening is priceless.
A lot of sequels raise the stakes by having bigger action sequences. Despite the slightly larger budget, Now You See Me 2 has nothing that compares to the car chase in the first installment. Now that we know the characters, (well, most of them) NYSM2 is more of a personal story. In a very loose sense, it’s a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, but with one key difference, which I won’t spoil.
Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) is back, and he wants revenge. Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) wants out of prison, so he offers to help Agent Rhodes, with whom he has a bit of personal history. Merritt McKinney’s twin brother Chase (Woody Harrelson in a duel role) shows up, and he’s in league with the bad guys. It sounds a bit like a soap opera subplot, but it works.
Like its predecessor, Now You See Me 2 is a fun movie, as long as you buy into the conceit. Some critics complained about the use of CGI to enhance the illusions in both this film and the previous one, but I think it’s necessary. It’s one thing to watch a magic act on your TV or phone, it’s another to see it on a big screen. Sleight-of-hand is fun in the room, but in a movie, there needs to be a bit of the old razzle dazzle. Without the effects, the card tossing would look fake, and where is the magic in that?